Update: Added new updates to the Google Home app, new available live TV streaming apps, and other timely information.
Google’s first foray into the world of streaming devices, the Chromecast, was a complete knockout when it debuted in 2013. Since then, Google has continued to update its streaming device for the future, including a faster new version of its original dongle and an audio-only version, as well as the Chromecast Ultra for 4K Ultra HD support. Whichever version you use, the small device remains just as convenient as ever, providing you with a simple way to cast your favorite TV shows, music, and movies from a mobile device or computer to the big screen (or speaker) of your choice.
While Chromecast’s popularity has spread far and wide already, those who have yet to be initiated into its world may still have a lot of questions about how Chromecast works and what it can do. We cover all of that below, along with some very handy apps you’ll want in your arsenal, so follow along to get your Chromecast on.
What is Chromecast and how does it work?
Chromecast devices run a simplified version of Google’s Chrome OS, and have limited memory and hardware specs. However, they don’t need to have a ton of power because they aren’t much more than glorified gateways to streaming content. To use a Chromecast, you simply plug it into your TV’s HDMI port and connect to your home’s internet network following the simple instructions provided. The device then acts as a portal for your favorite streaming apps on your mobile device to be “cast” onto your TV.
Here’s how casting works: Using apps on your mobile device or computer, you essentially hand off — or cast — content to the Chromecast by tapping the Chromecast symbol (a square with wavy lines in the corner) from within the app. Using the information it receives about what you want to watch, the Chromecast finds the TV show or movie on the web and streams it directly from the service to the TV.
This way, your mobile device’s resources aren’t hogged up by streaming tasks, and battery life doesn’t take a huge hit. Think of your mobile device as a remote control for the Chromecast. One exception to this rule is when the Chromecast mirrors your Chrome browser on your computer. In this case, the Chromecast is depending entirely on your computer as the source for what it displays. The other exception is an app called AllCast, which we dig into a little bit further down.
Introducing the Chromecast family
If you haven’t yet entered the world of 4K Ultra HD TVs, the $35 version of the Chromecast is still your best bet. The device comes in three distinct colors — black, coral, and lemonade — and features three built-in antennas, a malleable HDMI cord, and support for 802.11ac and 5 GHz bands.
For those looking to step into the future of high-resolution content, the $69 Chromecast Ultra may be a better fit. The Chromecast Ultra brings more than just a higher pixel count to your streaming toolkit — along with 4K Ultra HD support, the device supports the two most popular versions of HDR (including HDR10 and Dolby Vision), to work with virtually any 4K HDR-ready TV. HDR content allows for deeper contrast, brighter highlights, and richer color shading. It is widely regarded as a key element to making 4K shows and movies look more realistic and engaging.
The Chromecast Ultra also adds Ethernet support for a stronger, more stable connection. Google claims the device is “1.8” times faster than its streaming sibling, which checked out in our review. The company has begun adding 4K Ultra HD movies to Google Play, a nice addition that will join Netflix and YouTube as top sources supporting 4K Ultra HD resolution, though Netflix will charge you a bit more to get access to its 4K library.
Finally, Google’s Chromecast Audio offers a simple way to turn virtually any powered speaker into an audio streaming device. Similar to its video-streaming family members, the Chromecast Audio “casts” audio from streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and many others. However, instead of an HDMI connection, the Chromecast Audio connects via 3.5mm audio jack, or via a digital Optical input (though you’ll need an additional mini-Toslink adapter or cable to do so). For this guide, we’ll be talking about the video-ready Chromecast devices, but you can find out more about Chromecast Audio here.
Which devices work with Chromecast?
Google’s Chromecast devices are supported by Android tablets and smartphones, iPads and iPhones, and Chrome for Windows and Mac OS X.
Google Chromecast is available at: